Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eminent Domain Amendment: Well Intentioned, But Bad Amendment

As absentee voting starts, I've been receiving a lot of questions about the Question #1 on the ballot which is a constitutional amendment regarding eminent domain (Questions #1).

I am going to vote No and would encourage all Virginians to vote No.

First, some background.  In the case of Kelo v. New London, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there was nothing in the United States Constitution prohibiting the government from condeming private property from an individual or business and giving it to another private person or entity.  The case held that the general benefits a community receives from redevelopment were sufficient to justify that action as a "public use" of the property.  However, the Supreme Court noted that while the United States Constitution did not prohibit the action, there was nothing to prohibit the states from having more restrictive provisions in their state constitutions.

The United States Constitution's Bill of Rights is based upon the Virginia Declaration of Rights that makes up the first article of the Constitution of Virginia.  Therefore, the Constitution of Virginia also contains no prohibition. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thoughts On The Democratic National Convention

Last week, I attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Patch asked me to do a series of daily diaries.  I was able to do something for the first three days.  I had to drive home after Day #4.

I also wrote this column for the local papers recapping the entire convention which ran in Patch, The Mt. Vernon Voice and the Mt. Vernon Gazette.
National Democratic Convention: An Inspiring Experience  
I would like to share with the community some of my reflections on the recent Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolinaat which delegates nominated President Barack Obama for re-election.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dominion Power Town Hall Follow Up

About 80 people turned out for last night's Town Hall Meeting on the undergrounding of utility service.  There was some discussion about the cost and two studies.  I have posted the 2005 study by the State Corporation Commission done in the wake of Hurricane Isabel on undergrounding power lines below along with a link to the Thomas Edison study referenced as well.

The cost of a specific undergrounding project is a function of many variables. 

I am also conducting a survey of the views of 44th District residents to measure their level of interest in this issue and willingness to pay for undergrounding.  Click on the link below to complete the survey.
2005 State Corporation Commission Report Underground Lines

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fairfax County Crime Collapses: Richmond Keeps Pushing

U.S. Senator Jim Webb always likes to point out that in the United States 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's prison population.  As Jim likes to say, either our sentencing policy is out of proportion with the rest of the world, or Americans are incredibly evil people. 

The costs of this are staggering.  Virginia abolished parole in 1995.  Since then our prison budget has skyrocketed - consuming more and more money that could otherwise go to education, healthcare or our safety net.  Depending on how you count, Virginia spends between $25,000 and $35,000 per year per inmate to house them in prison.  For a point of reference, Virginia also spends around $5,000 per student to educate them. 

Virginia even has one brand new $105 million prison in Southwest Virginia that is currently empty and costs taxpayers $700,000 per year to keep available.  In the article, leaders in that part of the state lamented the fact that the jail was empty.  From my point of view, it is actually a good sign. 

Today, Tom Jackman reported that Fairfax County announced that in 2011 crime hit an all-time low in Fairfax County - even with a new reporting system that should have caused the stats to increase.  Fairfax County has always had a relatively low level of crime compared to the rest of the state - largely because crime is often driven by economics, mental illness, or other dysfunction.  Affluent households tend to have access to health care and treatment which helps to prevent crime.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekly Column: Should We Bury Our Power Lines In Mt. Vernon & Lee?

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, the Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of September 5, 2012.

Should We Bury Our Power Lines in Mount Vernon and Lee?

Two months ago, my wife and children were out of town so I decided to work at my office in the City of Fairfax until about 9:30 p.m. As I drove home from Fairfax, I was listening to WTOP and didn’t notice anything unusual other than a thunderstorm warning for the far western suburbs.

Around 10:30 p.m. the wind started blowing and the power went out. I called my wife after our generator didn’t turn on and looked outside. The 100 year-old trees in my yard were swinging around like Hurricane Isabel and it didn’t stop for fifteen minutes. That’s when I knew this was no ordinary storm.

The next day, as I disseminated information and checked out Dominion’s outage map, it was obvious that we had a major situation on our hands. As I walked my dog through Hollin Hills, I had to repeatedly dodge downed lines. Multiple streets were closed. Trees were down everywhere. For some reason, the west side of Mason Hill got clobbered as that storm rolled in.

Dominion Power’s response was initially slow. There were multiple reasons for this, but the primary reason was that the Derecho was a complete surprise. Hurricanes or snowstorms usually allow for \one or two weeks of preparation. Then, as the week went on, I started to receive a lot of constituent contacts about burying power lines.

This was not the first time I heard this. In the summer/fall of 2011, I knocked about 4,000 doors including doors in two precincts that were returned to the 44th District in redistricting – Hayfield and Kirkside which contains most of Hollin Hills. Last summer, we were hit by a Tropical Storm Lee, an earthquake, and then Hurricane Irene within about forty-five days.

As I walked through Hayfield Precinct, I noted that about half the lines were buried and half above ground. In Kirkside Precinct, the Mason Hill neighborhood was buried and the rest were mostly above ground. On the doors, many people told me that the loss of electricity was a real problem in their community.

Another complaint that I hear is that many people feel we are one of the last places in Northern Virginia to have our service restored whenever a mass outage hits. After the recent Derecho, if you looked at the outage map, you would have seen that the western part of Fairfax County have relatively fewer outages compared to the neighborhoods closer to the Beltway so this is not entirely inaccurate.

There are several reasons for this. One reason is that our neighborhoods are older and we have more big trees which cause more outages. However, the second reason is because Fairfax County did not mandate the burying of power lines on new development until the 1970’s so the “newer” part of the County has less above ground lines and less outages.